Chilean teen reaches the finals in Google Science Fair

With a bottle and some freshly cut grass, 15-year-old Alejandro Fuentes conducted an experiment aimed at creating solar panels from organic matter.

A Chilean teenager from the small city of Rancagua, located 50 miles (80 km) south of Santiago, has earned a place alongside the world’s brightest young minds by becoming a finalist in the Google Science Fair.

Fifteen-year-old Alejandro Fuentes Herrera’s idea was to use fresh lawn clippings in an experiment that could have profound implications for the way we get our energy.

“I was thinking of the price of fuel one day, when I remembered that vegetables also do a photoelectric process as part of photosynthesis,” explains the earnest young scientist in his project entry, “and I thought about using these chemicals in the creation of solar panels.”

Fuentes Herrera’s idea placed him among 90 finalists of the Google-sponsored competition, which invites people under the age of 18 to pitch a scientific idea. Now in its second edition, the science fair attracted thousands of entries from over 100 countries.

Chile’s young entrant conducted an experiment using a bottle that contained a copper plate and a piece of graphite, which was filled with a green liquid prepared using washed grass.

“The copper plate and a piece of graphite are connected to a voltmeter that measures the current. This way, it generates electricity and, when the bottle is placed in the light, its voltage rises,” Fuentes Herrera told local paper, La Hora.

The end result of this homemade experiment: a formula for “reasonably cheap, renewable and biodegradable” components for solar panels, based on “organic materials that can be extracted from agricultural waste.”

The top 15 finalists from the Google science fair will be announced on June 6.  They will subsequently be flown to a finalist event in California on July 23, where the internet giant promises to “crown” the winners.

Fuentes Herrera will face stiff competition, with a range of entrants that included ideas to improve recycling using robots constructed with pieces of LEGO, treating cancer with a substance created by bees and even a project to counter the abuse of methamphetamines.

This post is also available in Spanish